Choosing to Run by Des Linden

Subtitle: For the Love of Running


Posted on March 7th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

Why do you choose to run? Throughout my entire running career, I've been asked this question frequently in one way or another. As someone who participates in a sport that is often used as punishment for other sports and has willingly done so to the point of racing professionally, I think people expect me to have some profoundly enlightening answer—as though I've discovered something about running that most have not. On the contrary, I have a few simple reasons for running that I think many would relate to.

To begin with, I started running at 8 years old mostly because my friends were doing it. I grew up playing soccer. When several of my friends from soccer, including my best friend, decided to give running a try, I was happy to run as well and continue hanging out with my friends in the social setting of sports. I've continued to run through high school, college, and as a professional because I discovered a God-given talent for racing and an enjoyment of running. I'm motivated to get up and go to practice every day because I want to be the best in the world some day before this career is over. A love of the sport and greater running community, enjoyment of the physical act of running, and desire to glorify God with this talent for as long as it's His will have kept me running all these years and are reasons that I will continue to run long after this professional career is over.

That being said, I picked Choosing to Run for the 15th installment of Runners Who Read because I love hearing the stories of what brought people to the running community and motivates them to run every day, especially those who are putting in over a hundred miles per week. I also, like many of you, am fan of Des Linden. Those of you who follow her on social media may also know and love her brand of witty humor combined with straight shooting truth and a willingness to speak on any topic. In addition to reading about her background in running and her historic 2018 Boston Marathon win, I am also interested in her perspective on the state of the sport today and the direction it is headed in the future.

Discussion Questions:

1. What was your first experience with the running community like? What has continued to bring you back?

2. What are you most looking forward to about reading this book?

Subtitle: Worth the Effort

Chapters 1-4

Posted on April 13th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

I remembered Frank's faith in me and Walt's long-game philosophy that effort was always worthwhile even when the outcome wasn't predictable. - Des Linden, Choosing to Run (pg#26)

In marathoning, as in life, we are rarely met with completely predictable outcomes. You can diligently study for a test and still encounter questions for which you feel unprepared. Worse yet, your classmate who studied less may fare better simply by the luck of the draw of questions that day. The test results won't necessarily show it, but you very well may be better off in the long run for having put in the extra study time. You can spend an hour in an escape room and whether or not your team successfully escapes, there is still fun to be had in the problem-solving. You can spend months preparing to race on a cool, crisp Boston day only to be met with historically awful rainy, cold, and windy conditions that cause a sudden change of plans, as was the case at the 2018 Boston Marathon.

Such is the situation Des Linden found herself in during the early miles of her Boston Marathon winning run and also in the early part of her professional running career as described in the early chapters of Choosing to Run. As a runner who started her marathon career straight out of college at age 23, she figured out pretty quickly that she would need to play the long game. Unlike the top distance stars coming out of her class, she didn't have agents rushing to sign her or multiple offers on the table. With one opportunity from the Hanson's Original Distance Project on a bonus-only contract, she would have to build slowly from the bottom with no clear mountain top in sight. So too was the view from mile zero through mile 12 of that fateful Boston Marathon. Unsure if she would even be able to finish the race before it began, she hung out at the back of the pack putting forth the effort just to stay in the race in such horrible conditions as others withdrew. As we know, such effort led to an improbable victory on that given day, when she could have easily given up.

Sometimes that unpredictable outcome is not what you may have hoped for, other times it can be a blessing in disguise. Either way, if a journey was worth enough to pursue all the way to the outcome, then there was value in the effort put forth along the way.

Discussion Questions:

1. Where are some places that you find value in running, walking, or jogging at times when you aren't getting the end results you'd hoped for?

2. Today's quote from the book continues to look at the idea of there being value in effort regardless of the outcome. "I didn't want to be haunted years down the line by what-ifs, and the only way to avoid that was to chase down an answer, whether I liked that answer or not." (pg# 26) If you knew that there was a chance that discovering such an answer may disappoint you or end in failure, is it still worth the try to avoid the "what-ifs" as Linden says?

Subtitle: Right Foot, Left Foot, Repeat

Chapters 4-8

Posted on April 20th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

What is the appropriate unit to measure progress towards success? Well, I guess that depends on how you define success, but perhaps the smallest unit that many could agree upon and seem to use quite frequently is a proverbial "(baby) step in the right direction." For a writer or an artist, that might be a sentence or a brushstroke on a blank piece of paper. A new language learner might memorize a single new vocabulary word in their chosen new language. In the case of a marathon runner, it may literally be a couple of steps as it was for Des Linden in the 9 months leading up to her 2018 Boston Marathon win.

For nearly a year, as Linden outlines through the middle part of Choosing to Run, she struggled with symptoms of debilitating fatigue and weakness as she lived with undiagnosed and worsening hypothyroidism. During times when she thought that she might just be tired from marathon training, she ended up slowly declining into worse and worse health. Easy runs became difficult, she couldn't keep herself awake on moderate length car drives, and she was sleeping through most of the day as her organs were shutting down and muscles were wasting away unbeknownst to her. Fortunately, after a visit to an urgent care center, she was able to quickly get the right medications before the situation became dire. Still, with less than a year to prepare for Boston, the road to recovery was long. Progress no longer meant nailing a hard tempo run, rather it meant getting out of bed and moving. Right foot, left foot, repeat she says to herself several times.

Nonetheless, progress is progress, no matter how small. Eventually, those small steps turned into bigger ones which added to and then multiplied her improvement. Every step mattered and every one of them paid off when she ultimately got back to winning form. Whether you are taking leaps and bounds or baby steps, any movement in the right direction adds up over time. The most important thing is to keep going.

Discussion Questions:

1. What proverbial "steps in the right direction" are you taking toward a goal today (big or small)?

Subtitle: Choosing to Run

Chapters 9-13, Epilogue

Posted on April 27th, 2023

By Olivia Baker

During my first two years of college at Stanford, I had a teammate named Aisling Cuffe (yes that Aisling Cuffe, some of you who follow elite women's marathoning may have heard of her) who insisted on enjoying the process and having fun with every race. Whether we were lining up for a dual meet with our cross town rivals, Cal Berkley, or toeing the line at the NCAA Championships, Aisling always found an opportunity to remind me to have fun before the gun went off. In the midst of the high stakes and crippling nerves that come in the lead-up to a race it could be easy to lose sight of the enjoyment of competition. I appreciated that Aisling always knew how to find ways to make those moments fun for the people around her and embodied that joy herself when she lined up. Though we don't cross paths at races much anymore, (she tends to compete more on the roads while I find myself in more track races) I walk to the line every race thinking of her leaning over the fence before the start saying "Hey OB, don't forget to have fun," and remember to relish the race to come.

This is the memory that came to mind as I read the final chapters of Choosing to Run by Des Linden. As she recovered and learned to manage her hypothyroidism, Linden focused on putting the intrinsic pleasure of running front and center (pg#165) and it improved not only her physical well-being, but her professional well-being also as it pertained to rediscovering her fitness. Gone were the days that she would stress over hitting exact mileage and splits in a workout. Rather, she would focus on being consistent in her effort in workouts and make more space to appreciate the simple act of running on her easy days. In doing so she not only recaptured a good amount of fitness in time to win the 2018 Boston Marathon, but catapulted herself to new heights in running. In October of 2020 she hosted Destober, running the mileage of the day of the month every day (for a total of 496 miles that month), pushing herself to her furthest ever weekly mileage and enjoying that unknown territory every step of the way. In April of 2021, she would break the 50k world record remarking on the way "I'm hurting in a way that I haven't felt in forever, since the marathon was new and unpredictable for me. I'm uncertain how this will unfold. And I love it." (pg#244)

Sometimes simply consistently finding joy in the process goes a long way towards achieving a given goal both in running and in life. So this week, let's all take some time to be more intentional about finding reasons to enjoy our next run, walk, or jog.

Discussion Questions:

1. Where do you find joy in running, walking, or jogging?

2. This week's quote comes from Des Linden as she gets back into a regular rhythm of running after getting on her hypothyroidism medication. "The grind meant something positive to me: a challenge to embrace repetition and approach it creatively. It annoyed me when I heard 'the grind' used in a pejorative way. Sure, it could be tedious, but it was a choice. Go off and do something else if you hate it." (pg# 163). Do you agree with her perspective on what "the grind" should be? What are some things in your life that you consider to be a grind?

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